Commentary

Bullying ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ political minority has no right to tread on the rights of others

December 21, 2021 12:20 am

Capitol police try to hold back rioters outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by Alex Kent for the Tennessee Lookout, States Newsroom).

Don’t tread on me. Leave my liberty, my choice, my freedom to do whatever I damn well please alone. But I can tread on you. No vax for me means I can infect you. Zero gun control for me makes you unsafe in a country where mass shootings are routine.  My belief about abortion cancels your right to have one.

I wave my yellow Gadsden flag with coiled rattlesnake as a warning to you — as I storm the Capitol to violently tread all over democracy and the choice of millions of Americans who freely elected a new president. But don’t you dare tread on me. I’ve got my rights. They override yours. Deal with it.

Where does a minority, a fanatical few, get off pushing and shoving acceptance of their myopic one-way order — at the expense of everyone else? Are these folks former grade school malcontents who grew up to be angry adults with a chip on their shoulder? Can’t tell. But boy, are they on a tear now screaming about vaccine tyranny, rocking camouflage and assault weapons, crusading against women’s rights. God help those who stand in their way as Capitol Police did Jan. 6.

Yet a civilized society must push back. It must reject the barbarity of bullies and relegate them to the fringes of society where they belong. Otherwise, the general will of citizens, acting as one to benefit all, can be shoved aside by the particular will of pushy individuals doing whatever they damn well please. Which might fly if people lived alone. On a remote island. But we don’t. We live in communities where our lives overlap. 

How we treat our neighbors, friends and family matters. How we respect and rely on our community matters. Call it an unspoken contract between human beings who recognize their moral responsibilities to each other. We agree to live by laws that limit our personal freedoms for the common good. You can’t drive like a bat out of hell or blow through stop signs. You can’t smoke on airplanes. You can’t blast your gun like a cowboy in the city. You can’t falsely yell “fire!” in a crowded theater. In short, you can’t violate the rights of others to be safe, to breathe clean air, to not be shot or trampled. 

We are not free to make choices that pose significant risk or potential harm to other members of society. That used to be a social construct we took for granted — and policymakers reinforced without controversy. Not anymore. The pandemic changed everything. The shift to selfishness was super-charged by a pathological narcissist who made the public health crisis about him, his re-election, his vanity — not the tens of thousands of Americans suffering and dying on his watch.  

He downplayed the data on rising infections and deaths because it made him look bad. He refused to wear a mask because it didn’t suit him despite its proven effectiveness at slowing the spread of the disease. He refused to set an example for Americans to emulate about protecting each other during a plague. He preferred maskless rallies and mocking mitigation measures to contain the virus. He derided weenies who followed the science and took precautions. He branded himself a macho man who threw caution to the wind. Be like me, his howling fans heard, and many gambled their life away on his act. 

Legions mimicked his derision of public health restrictions and adopted his cold indifference to the common good as the nation staggered under more COVID cases and deaths than the rest of the world. They took his tweets to “liberate” themselves from COVID constraints as a patriotic imperative to put self-interest above the public interest. Treading on the right to life of immunocompromised citizens, cancer patients, the elderly, or other highly vulnerable segments of the population with reckless abandon showed partisan solidarity with a soulless populist. 

Still does. Craven Republicans are running with self-serving exploits of a sulking seditionist to keep MAGA lemmings fired up on unfounded fear. The GOP continues to cultivate distrust of incontrovertible facts, hostility toward public health officials, noncompliance of mask mandates or social distancing rules, disinformation about vaccines and opposition to vaccine mandates or regular COVID tests that could expedite the post-pandemic era.

As the nation sailed past 800,000 COVID deaths, Senate Republicans, including the spineless Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, rallied against President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine or testing mandate for large businesses — a preventative move that could be critical to combating the coronavirus. As Ohio became one of six states driving the national surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations, Ohio House Republicans approved an anti-vaccine mandate bill. It would prohibit both private companies and public entities from requiring proof of vaccinations to enter a facility or conduct business. 

With half of Ohioans unvaccinated and deaths increasing to well over 27,000, Republican lawmakers and statewide officials still make this crisis about them and their popularity with a foaming base they need to keep their jobs. Missing is any moral responsibility to protect the rest of us, to uphold the health and safety rights of communities facing another wave of COVID.

The pandemic could have strengthened our social bonds, but nefarious players conspired to shred them for a party of one. In cruel irony, they repurposed “Don’t tread on me” to mean “My liberty trumps yours.” A banner for barbarians. Deal with it?

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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

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